A Reasonable Rhyme: Shining a Little Light on a Japanese Custom

So many times in our daily lives here in Japan we may find our selves wondering, “Now come on, why would you do that? That just doesn’t make any sense…” One such instance as pointed out by Ms. Marika Galadza in her list of “5 Humbling Gaijin Moments” is the fact that you are, generally speaking, expected to pay an equal share for your own welcome/farewell party. For many of us foreign types that seems a little out of place when it is common that your bill will be covered by the rest of the group any time that you are the center of attention (i.e. birthdays). Well, it turns out that it’s not just an over-stinginess on Japan’s part and actually has a genuine basis in Japanese cultural history. This was kindly pointed out to us by a reader of ours, Mr. Shigeto Miyazaaki, an English teacher at Isahaya Commercial High School.

Sake Barrel and Yen

As he explains, “Have you ever heard of “お樽”, which literally means, “O(an honorific article) + Taru (a barrel of sake)? A long time ago, a guest used to bring some sake instead of money for the party. That custom lingers on in a party with Japanese people. At a welcome party, or a farewell party, or whatever, a guest is not supposed to foot the bill, but is expected to bring “お樽” instead, which is usually some money folded in a small paper envelope. Nowadays, though some guests still bring some sake to the party. This custom is sometimes confusing to a guest because it is not mentioned officially, but expected customarily. In addition, a guest may wonder how much money he/she should bring. In order to avoid such a confusion, some Japanese expect each participant to foot the bill, including the guest.”

So there you have it. As much as I’d like to see the look on the teacher’s faces if you showed up to your Kangeikai or Wakarekai with a nice bottle of sake rather than the usual ¥4,000 something tells me you’d still end up paying your own way. Still somehow it’s nice to know that occasionally there really is a method to the madness.

-Andrew Morris

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.